We winter-camp in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, where there is always a big pile of snow from late December through April or later.
We mostly go to one of two spots, either up an old logging road off White Pass in the Mount Baker National Forest, or on Mount Rainier near Paradise. Each has that one necessary thing a plowed road to the trailhead. They are both at elevations that means winter precipitation usually falls as snow instead of rain.
White Pass gives us a lot of solitude barely a mile off the highway, and on a clear day there is a splendid view of the Goat Rocks Wilderness.
The views are even more spectacular on Mount Rainier. Not only is there the mountain, there are also views to the south of St. Helens, Adams, and Hood, and the Tatoosh range. You feel like you're on top of the world, even though you're not even halfway to the summit. At night, it is peaceful and quiet on Mount Rainier. During the day, it is a circus parade of hikers, skiers, snowboarders, and climbers, many on their way to and from Camp Muir and the summit.
We pick a semi-secluded knoll off to one side of the cattle trail and watch them tramp by. We sit on a couch made of snow blocks that we've upholstered with an old, green tarp, sip drinks, and go,"Moo." One Saturday afternoon, we counted 200 people on their way up, then stopped counting. The Mountaineers and Boy Scouts and who knows who else had training groups spread all over, learning how to build snow caves and igloos, how to glissade or telemark or self-arrest, how to read avalanche conditions, and how to stay warm. Did we feel crowded? No. It's a big mountain, and when you've got a comfortable couch on the front deck of your home, it's a beautiful place to be. Sometimes a tourist stops by and naively asks, "Did you build this?" We tell them, "It's for sale; good terms," but we haven't had any takers, yet.
You must obtain a hiking permit on Mount Rainier and demolish the igloo before leaving. This is for aesthetic and safety concerns, as a snow-covered hole in the ground could easily break through and injure an unaware hiker or skier. It's also fun to cut it into pieces. We make it a challenge to see how many sections we can carve away without dropping the remaining arches. It tells us how strong it was.
There are lots of places suitable for winter camping and igloo building. For a beginner, I suggest that you find a bunch of snow not far from your car. Make sure you can recognize avalanche conditions and don't go there. Build an igloo, keeping it small and simple. Add to it. Sit in it while you eat lunch, then knock it down and go home. If you don't like leaving it, and wish that you could stay in it all night, then go back another time.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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